Self portrait as Steve Hart 2006
camera: Sikratis Kondilis Giclee print on Arches paper, edition 1/30
47 x 53 cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2007.
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
‘Self portrait as Steve Hart: Adding new voices to old legends’
There are only three items on the National Cultural Heritage Control List forbidden from ever leaving Australia: Victoria Cross medals, certain Indigenous artefacts of extreme importance, and Ned Kelly’s armour 1. Australia is infatuated with the Kelly Gang legend as a symbol of a defiant national psyche. We are constantly retelling it, from Australia’s first feature film in 1906, to Sidney Nolan’s infamous Ned Kelly painting series (1946-47), to Peter Carey’s novel True History of the Kelly Gang (2000). But is this legend an appropriate foundation for modern Australian culture? For artist Luke Roberts, it champions murderous, heteronormative masculinity and fails to represent alternative voices.
A member of the Kelly Gang, Steve Hart is most notably remembered for riding his horse side-saddle, dressed as a woman, to avoid being recognised by the authorities. Because Hart is embedded in the ultra-masculine Kelly Gang legend, Australia has preferred to view his choice of attire as an antiauthoritarian jest rather than an expression of gender or sexual identity.
In his 2006 photograph Self-portrait as Steve Hart, Roberts sits side-saddle on a horse before a backdrop of dry paddocks and power lines. The artist’s business shirt, tie, black pants and shoes are just visible beneath a floral dress. His chin and eyes are raised, never yielding to the viewer’s gaze, and while his right hand supports him on the horse’s back, his left loosely grips the reigns. It is a scene familiar to Australian art, mimicking Sidney Nolan’s 1947 painting Steve Hart dressed as a girl, part of the Ned Kelly series.
Although the subject matter of Self-portrait as Steve Hart appears simple, the visual language is potent. Its contemporary photographic quality – the definition, focus and light levels – removes the temporal distance between present-day Australians and the original story of Steve Hart. This distance, combined with the layering of conventionally male and female clothing, thrusts the subject from an old world of larrikin dress-ups and places it firmly down into a current queer discourse. By inserting himself, a gay artist, into the legend, Roberts jerks the comfortable certainty of heteronormative heroes from beneath Australia’s feet. What if Hart didn’t dress in women’s clothes merely to show contempt for the authorities; what if he just preferred wearing a dress?
The self-portrait’s setting is the small Queensland town of Alpha, where Roberts experienced a strict Catholic upbringing and a personal struggle to accept his own sexuality. It somehow seems unfamiliar to link queer identities to this rural backdrop that evokes the country’s colonial, pastoral histories. Perhaps we can attribute this to the lack of national narratives that include gay, transgender, or even unconventionally masculine characters.
By blurring the lines of national history, personal biography, and staged fiction, Roberts undermines the highly constructed icons our culture uses to define itself, and which are exclusive and non-representative for many within that culture.
To counter this exclusion, Roberts inserts himself into the narrative, essentially rewriting it to include queer voices. But other voices remain unrepresented in the continual retellings, including Roberts’, of the Kelly Gang legend. Women, for example, remain something only alluded to, with no ownership over even their attire. The narrative also remains Anglo-centric, as the rural landscape is imagined as an empty one, a symbol of the frontier to be conquered only by the bravest of white outlaws. It now falls to other artists, writers, historians and filmmakers to give voice to the lingering silences in this national legend.
Miranda Hine, Winner, SoFA & UQ Art Museum Emerging Arts Writers’ Award 2016
1 Australian Government (1987), Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Regulations, <https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2004C00105>
Read an interview with Miranda Hine here
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Image: Luke Roberts, Alice and Gina, 1977 (Alice Jitterbug and Gina Gorshus), Arthur St, New Farm. Detail from a film by Sue Rattle; whereabouts of film unknown. Still camera: David Sandison.
This is an updated version (24 March 2016) of the article published online 15th March 2016 in ARI Remix Number 1: the scene https://issuu.com/ari-remix/docs/ari-remix-issue-1-the-scene-issuu I’ve added a little more information about my time living and working in Europe.
Open Letter to Brian Doherty, editor ARI Remix Number 1: the scene
STRANDED DOING THE STRAND – Luke Roberts
Whilst this is a response to your request Brian for a single word that might sum up ARIs in 1980s Brisbane, you’ll read that I’m responding in a more extended way to the question. I ask the reader to at least try to understand why this era still rattles me after all these years.
STRANDED is the word that comes to mind, a loaded 1970s word to be using for latter day (read 1980s) Queensland organisations (read Artist Run Initiatives/ARIs). There are a number of reasons for me to suggest this word, some obvious, others maybe not so and some also contentious. We certainly were quite ISOLATED at that time in Queensland, both geographically and politically. The recent documentary on ABC about the groundbreaking punk band, The Saints gave a condensed and reasonably accurate account of the awful political situation in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4GASQ7Sv3I It rattled the cages of the past, awakening ‘demons’ and put much into perspective, for me at least. In its way it was a kind of exorcism not only rattling, but also opening cage doors and giving much-needed acknowledgement of how things were. Recognition of horror goes a long way to healing post-traumatic stress disorder. It would be instructive to all of us to view this documentary and be reminded, and for those who weren’t here to be given a quick lesson in Queensland’s recent ugly past and be appalled.
Livin’ in a world insane
They cut out some heart and some brain
Been filling it up with dirt
Yeah baby dunno how it hurts
To be stranded on your own
Stranded far from home, all right*
It was focused, understandably, on a particular subject, namely The Saints. However in describing the terrible background The Saints came out of it gave little indication of the suppression that minorities in Queensland were subjected to and presented the general state of affairs as a somewhat heteronormative left against a rigidly heterocentric, fascist regime. In this respect I’m reminded that despite the perceived leaps forward there is much that remains in place. Consider the current attitudes of the likes of Cory Bernardi and the Christian Lobby and their efforts to stop funding to protect GLBTQ and other teenagers from bullying at high school as well as the fact that Australia is the last English speaking country yet to legalise same-sex marriage.
The concentration on the 1980s ARIs in this forum may result in part from the upcoming UQAM exhibition and simply underlines a certain weighting. (I appreciate that ARI Remix plans to extend its scope from 1980 to 2000 and is welcoming in its embrace. The greater input currently deals with the 1980 – 1990 and I am responding to your request Brian for a word that might sum up the 80s ARIs.)
STRANDED. Yes there were gay (GLBTQI) individuals that were involved in the ARIs of the 1980s here in Brisbane, but where were the overt political works? Where were the visible art protests? Perhaps they did exist and I’m simply unaware of them. No offence intended to Virginnia, Paul, Hiram etc. Where were the Aboriginal artists in these 1980 ARIs? I’m aware that at least one ARI artist (Jeanelle Hurst) was involved in a street march and I’m keen to hear what other kinds of political works came out of the ARIs. One can ask, “Do ARIs have to be politically focused?” or is it a case of “Keep calm and carry on”? **
I left Brisbane in early 1984 in self-imposed exile and returned in late 1987. Effectively I was away for four years. I’ll admit that I couldn’t possible know all of what went on in those four years. However I did return to a certain status quo though the winds of change were palpable. Brisbane had grown up to some degree. The much-loathed Bjelke-Petersen regime had finally been disgraced and was on it way out. A new energy was apparent in the artworld here. This was in part due to the ARIs and the fact that the eyes of the world were looking towards Brisbane and Australia with the upcoming Expo88. Terms such as “post-modernism” were in lavish usage and the Aboriginal renaissance was well and truly visible. Women’s rights were also being acknowledged and demanded. There were signs of a Matriarchy developing in Brisbane and using pejorative terms such as ‘gay mafia’. I can name the Brisbane matriarchs of the time, but I’m still puzzled by who the Gay Mafiosi were. No doubt I was considered one of them (read ‘One of Them’).
Gay and Queer politics were given a flowering in the 1990s and then packed away as a kind of ‘been-there-done-that-lets-move-on’. ‘The Queers have had their moment in the sun’.
I realise that this is a venting of sorts. The trials of the past are conjured up by these memories and events. We were all affected by the horrors of that time, but I ask, “Were there laws in place specifically aimed at denying and denigrating your sexuality and also new ones devised in the 1980s?” Not only was it illegal to be gay, have gay sex, cross-dress*** in Queensland, but also in 1985 the Bjelke-Petersen government passed an atrocious, homophobic amendment to the Liquor Act known as the Deviant Law. Most people don’t remember the fact or weren’t even aware of it. Care Factor Nil I suppose, if one wasn’t affected. It is also relevant to mention the World Health Organisation listed homosexuality as a mental illness to be eradicated and only removed it from its books in 1990. The Bjelke-Petersen regime and its police henchmen were obsessed with homosexuality and those other pinkos the unionists and communist reds.
Post the Bjelke-Petersen era, in the 1990s, I was wrongly accused by a member of the artworld as presenting as a victim. This writing isn’t about outlining hierarchies of suffering, which I don’t believe in anyway or an attempt to establish a victimhood status. We all suffered. I’m not sure how much it is appreciated that when anyone is discriminated against we all suffer. I simply want to remind the reader that this was an ugly era in Queensland politics and a disgrace to Australia in general. It was not, from my perspective, a period that I have many particularly pleasant thoughts about. I felt my youth and my dreams and those of my friends and any young Queenslander were sacrificed to the political expediency of a grotesquely provincial experiment in fascism.
The specific dates of the upcoming UQAM ARI show ephemeral traces**** simply underlines for me and others, the ‘perceived indifference’ and lack of understanding of what openly gay (LGBTQI) artists have had to deal with. By locating the scope of the exhibition between the Commonwealth Games of 1982 and Expo 88 the openly queer ARIs of E.M.U (1979-1981) and AGLASSOFWATER (1988 – 1992) are effectively sidelined. I understand these ARIs may be given a mention in the catalogue. This is not to be seen as an attack on the curator Peter (Anderson) either, but simply pointing out that the choice of dates can be perceived as a convenient decision about a heavily politicized era and could be interpreted as an example of the sidelining, editing and Totschweigetaktik***** that still dogs the tracks of LGBTQI history here and continues to leave us STRANDED.
Naturally I’m encouraged that there is a concerted interest in recording the achievements and struggles of that controversial time. I give particular acknowledgement to Paul (Andrew) here and his Trojan Horse efforts in documenting the ARIs and bringing the existing wealth of peoples’ voices and archives into the public arena. Nonetheless it still remains a period of history that is difficult for me to revisit.
Even though I attempted to seek political asylum in the Netherlands in the 1980s I returned to Queensland. Queensland after all wasn’t a country, despite Bjelke-Petersen’s threats to secede. Early on in the 1970s HDH Pope Alice had seceded from Brisbane and ‘cordoned off’ a section of the city proclaiming it Vitanza City after the tyre service in the Old Rivoli Theatre in New Farm. This conceptual gesture was neither enough to sustain me nor give me a sense of security. I sold my shop and house and travelled as far away from Brisbane as I could go, to “the Port of Amsterdam, where the sailors all meet”.****** Before reaching the Netherlands I spent time in Tokyo, London, Ireland, Paris and Germany.
I was determined to stay away for at least two years and had a desire never to return. I’d only been out of the country once before on a two-week holiday and the prospect of surviving the other side of the world was a little daunting. Others had done it before so why not me. Brisbane had not given me the proper professional grounding that I required as an artist. Despite having had a solo show at the Institute of Modern Art in 1982, which was a rare event for a Queenslander then, when I approached the Australia Council two years into my time away, they didn’t know who I was and subsequently I didn’t receive a grant. I know this as a member of the Australia Council told me when I returned to Australia. Queensland has had a rocky relationship with the Australia Council and its funding program. The evidence would be there on their records. Queensland was the “poor relation” and at that time the laughing stock of the rest of Australia, except in Tasmania where they thought Joh was some kind of peanut god.
It was liberating to be the other side of the world in other cultures and countries. During my time in Germany I screened my films at the Art College in Hanover and also at the Film School in Braunsweig, as well as in Kassel, where I spent some months. I also lived in Berlin and Hanover before moving to the Netherlands. I ran my house on the top floors of an old clock factory in Monikenstraat in Amsterdam’s Red Light District somewhat as an ARI. I exhibited my work there and that of others and held events. I also exhibited in other unconventional space around Amsterdam and did eventually come to the notice of art dealers. In 1997 my work was included in a large exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. My first public exhibition ‘Name Dropping’ was in a space opposite Central Station at St Olofspoort. Towards the end of my time in Amsterdam I exhibited ‘Plan 9’ at the advertising business ComPartners on one of the canals. ‘Plan 9’ took its title from ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’, a Golden Turkey of a film that some readers would be familiar with. I worked with other artists and led as Bohemian a life as my need to earn a living allowed.
I was what was known as a ‘black worker’ and washed dishes and cooked in a restaurant to keep body and heart together. I was illegal in that I’d overstayed my visa and could have been deported at anytime. However the Netherlands, more than other countries, had a more lenient approach. Nonetheless there were regular deportations. There were times that I wished Queensland was a country so that I could’ve hoped to achieve political asylum in my new home. Support for South Africa was growing and Bjelke-Petersen and his regime were not given favourable press in Europe. One of my artworks of the time was a cartoon of two semi-abstract figures talking. One said, “Joh was a country remember”. The other replied, “Yes, we remember.” Ba Boom! After all the National Party had once been the Country Party.
I remember my great delight in seeing the Go-Betweens and their ‘Spring Hill Fair’ being listed as upcoming events when I visited Hamburg. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were the favourites of Berlin and Leigh Bowery was creating his legend in London. Fifi L’Amour and David DeMost moved to Amsterdam during my time there. They performed in Berlin for the 750th Anniversary of Berlin. I travelled there with them and met my hero Nina Hagen as I had backstage access being involved with Fifi’s wardrobe and a friend of mine did their make-up. That friend Lesley Vanderwalt won this year’s Oscar for make-up. Yes, name dropping again.
After four years away I was looking to move from Amsterdam to what might be greener pastures. Barcelona was in my sights. It was a fascinating city and Spain was throwing off the shackles of its own extended period of fascism. I didn’t have much by way of savings and would be looking for accommodation and a job in a place where I didn’t speak the language. I could also see that if I were to remain in Europe I would have to become a ‘European’ artist. Australia meanwhile was blossoming and much to my surprise even the young French wanted to travel to Australia. From day one in Paris it was obvious that Australia had become branché. Backpacks in the shape of koalas were everywhere; Aboriginal Art and golden beaches had opened up the eyes of the Europeans to a new world down under.
Reports were coming in that the horrors of the Bjelke-Petersen era were ending and the jig was up for the National Party. I decided to return to metaphorically knit like a latter-day Madame Defarge as heads rolled. I had to return to make sure I hadn’t nightmared (sic) it all up. It was imperative for me to go through the necessary processes at ground zero to unburden myself. I’m still doing that. It is grist for my creative mill after all, whether I want it to be or not. I had seriously considered suing the National Party for mental anguish. Their spin-doctors would have had a great time with that idea.
Yes, we can hear the violins playing and we can either put lipstick on the pig that was that socio-political environment of that time or attempt to tell it like it was and achieve some healing and truly move on. I’ve set up strategies to avoid being continually enthralled with the hypnotic lure of painful emotions, past events, and any worries about the future. At heart I’m an optimist. I appreciate that happiness is a decision. However I’m also an historian with a belief that we can only really move on by acknowledging. My work has centered on hidden histories as much as anything else. We currently live in a world operating around great lies where the truth is marginalized and that which doesn’t suit the Agenda is also marginalized and the marginalized are in turn used to consolidate the Agenda.
Marginalisation was forced upon me at birth. Of course I didn’t realize it at the time, but its ugly shape began to be seen way before I even recognized it for what it was. I have taken it upon myself as a badge of honour, a raison d’être for my very existence. I am an activist for the marginalized. I understand that most of us feel we don’t belong. I however was told in no uncertain terms from a young age that I didn’t and don’t belong.
The ARIs of the 1980s were admirable in that they happened at all, given the great cultural indifference that Queensland has for almost anything of its own. Whilst so much has come out of Queensland there remains an atmosphere of ‘nothing to see here. Keep moving’, ‘nothing happened’ or at least ‘nothing good happened or happens’. On the other hand however, as a detective in Andrew McGahan’s Last Drinks noted, Queensland will bend over for anyone or anything from the outside world.******
For the show ‘One Square Mile’ featuring Brisbane’s minorities, which Michele (Helmrich) co-curated for the opening of the Museum of Brisbane I produced a series of postcards with witness statements on the back. This was yet another attempt to establish my own history and that of my peers. Richard (Bell), who co-curated the exhibition, said to me he’d rather be born aboriginal than gay and freely admitted that he was a recovering homophobe. Richard added clarification when I recently asked permission to quote him. “I said that in the context of the situation in the 1970s Joh era with the rampant gay bashings. It was a harrowing time for many, many people but during that time I thought the cops hated gays more than they hated us blackfellas.” ********
I still feel somewhat alone in endeavour to establish my story and that of others. Despite my achievements and being included in shows like ‘One Square Mile’, there remains that strong sense of ‘death by silence’ (Totschweigetaktik). Perhaps this void can never be filled for any of us. Do we ever have a sense that our story has been fully told? These days I’m far more at peace with myself and my communities than I ever was as a youth. Have I settled for less or is it simply that after spending several extended periods of time in the outside world Brisbane has more pluses than minuses for the moment.
Now that the past has ‘safely’ gone we often have a distorted view of it and make it more grandiose than it was, perhaps even more terrible than it was, change the emphasis, and even change the goalposts. We turn it into mythology. In its own way it also becomes STRANDED. The older we become the greater the heroes we were in our youth. Because there wasn’t enough published writing and other serious witnessing in film and photography at the time we forget detail and see it through the lens of the present. We may even imagine we had mobile phones back then. However some things were very real.
In closing I’ll add these extracts from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Queensland
“While other states in Australia began to liberalise their anti-homosexuality laws in the 1970s and 1980s, Queensland was ruled by the socially conservative National Party of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. His government refused to countenance changes to the law, describing gay people as “child molesters” and “perverts”. At this time government policy was hostile; the Education Department refused to hire the openly gay teaching graduate Greg Weir and in 1985 the government passed an amendment to the Liquor Act making it an offence for publicans to serve alcohol to “perverts, deviants, child molesters and drug users” or to allow them to remain on licensed premises. The anti-homosexuality laws were enforced by police throughout the 1980s, including against men who were in same-sex relationships and were not aware that their private conduct was illegal.
…The Fitzgerald Inquiry was commissioned in the late 1980s in Bjelke-Petersen’s temporary absence, following allegations of corruption and misconduct in the Queensland Police. The inquiry subsequently investigated the entire system of government. One of its recommendations was that a newly established Criminal Justice Commission review the laws governing voluntary sexual behaviour, including homosexual activity.
This proposal was an issue in the 1989 state election. National Party leader Russell Cooper, whose party was heavily implicated in corruption by the Fitzgerald Inquiry, tried to galvanise socially conservative support using his party’s opposition to the legalisation of homosexual conduct. During the election campaign he claimed that his party’s corruption was a “secondary issue” to moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, adding that the then-Opposition ALP‘s policy of decriminalisation would send a “flood of gays crossing the border from the Southern states”. These advertisements were satirised by Labor ads depicting Cooper as a wild-eyed reactionary and a clone of Bjelke-Petersen and/or a puppet of Nationals party president Sir Robert Sparkes. Cooper’s party was defeated in the election.
…Goss’ government largely implemented the changes in the Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990, which was passed by the parliament on 29 November 1990. However, a truly equal age of consent was not implemented. Queensland’s age of consent is 16 for oral and vaginal sex. By contrast, anal intercourse, or “sodomy”, involving any person aged under 18, whether male or female, is a criminal offence, punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment. Patterson described this as a “pragmatic political response” to the objections of religious lobby groups, who largely equated homosexuality with sodomy.
* The Saints, (I’m) Stranded, lyrics written and composed by Chris Bailey and Ed Kueper, (1977).
** “Keep calm and carry on”, a motivational poster produced by the British Government during World War II.
*** My performance persona, Alice Jitterbug wore female underwear. This was transgressive and illegal in some states. One could wear the clothing of the opposite sex, but men in particular had to wear male underwear to demonstrate that it was just a costume. I’ve tried to find the particular law/s in this respect to give specific reference here. At this distance in time I’m not sure if the legal situation was most vigorously pursued in Tasmania, even though we felt vulnerable to Queensland as well. Nonetheless drag queens and cross-dressers were subjected to whatever behaviour the police wished to dish out should anyone in drag have the misfortune to come into their custody.
**** ephemeral traces: Brisbane’s artist-run scene in the 1980s (2 April 2016 – 26 June 2016) provides the first comprehensive analysis of artist-run practice in Brisbane during the final decade of the conservative Joh Bjelke-Petersen government. The exhibition focuses on the scene that developed around five key spaces that operated in Brisbane from 1982 to 1988: One Flat, A Room, That Space, The Observatory, and John Mills National.
Drawing on artworks, documentation and ephemera, the exhibition provides a contextual account of this progressive artist-run activity, examining collective projects, publications and the spaces themselves, as well as organisations such as the Artworkers Union and Queensland Artworkers Alliance. A counterpoint to Michele Helmrich’s earlier exhibition Return to sender (UQ Art Museum, 2012) which focused on the artists who left Queensland during the Bjelke-Petersen era. This exhibition is about the artists who stayed. Curator: Peter Anderson http://www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/coming-soon
***** Totschweigetaktik …’’death by silence’’ is… ‘‘an astonishingly effective tactic for killing off creative work or fresh ideas or even news stories. You don’t criticise or engage with what’s being said or produced or expressed; instead you deprive someone and their work or opinion of the oxygen of attention’’. http://gatesofvienna.net/2010/08/totschweigetaktik-death-by-silence/
****** Jacques Brel, Amsterdam, (1964) English lyrics as sung by David Bowie. Wikipedia state: Bowie’s studio version was released as the B-side to his single “Sorrow” in October 1973. … Brel originally stated that he didn’t want to “give his songs to fags”, and refused to meet Bowie, who nevertheless admired him.
******* Andrew McGahan, Last Drinks, a reflection upon the endemic political corruption in Queensland in the 1980s, and the aftermath of the famous Fitzgerald Inquiry.
******* Facebook messages with Richard Bell, Feb 25 2016
For further reading on the GLBTQI history of Queensland I recommend Clive Moore’s ‘Sunshine and Rainbows’ published by University of Queensland Press (February 1, 2001) ISBN-10: 0702232084 ISBN-13: 978-0702232084
‘Beware swimming with the gays’ – Queensland in 1985
January 1 2016
“As a parent, I would have strong reservations about letting young people compete in a pool that was used for such a sick event as a gay swimming carnival.”
So said Queensland’s welfare, youth and ethnic affairs minister 30 years ago, at the height of the nation’s AIDS fear and the state’s own homophobia, led by the Bjelke-Petersen government.
The 2015 Brisbane Pride festival would have been unthinkable in 1985, according to released state cabinet documents. Photo: Glenn Hunt
“It seems these people who promote such an immoral, unnatural and deviant lifestyle are turning up everywhere in New South Wales,” Geoff Muntz said.
“…You’ll never hear of a gay mardi gras or gay swimming carnival in Queensland.”
Then-National Party leader Ian Sinclair criticised the Labor Party over the spread of AIDS in 1985. Photo: Archive
The first recorded case of HIV had only occurred in Australia three years before Mr Muntz made his comments, two years after the nation’s first recorded death.
Homosexuality was still illegal in Queensland and would be for another five years.
Earlier that year, the NSW Health Authority had been forced to allay fears HIV/AIDS could be caught in public swimming pools, after a Sydney convent school refused to use a pool which had recently hosted an event as part of Sydney’s Mardi Gras.
Given the water was changed regularly and chemically treated, the NSW Health Department announced, it would be “extremely unlikely anyone would catch AIDS”.
But Mr Muntz wanted a better assurance than “extremely unlikely”.
And so, Queensland’s cabinet embarked on discussions on what could be done, including funding for “counter measures”, the liability of the Blood Bank for using AIDS-infected blood donations, the testing of all prisoners for the virus and the establishment of a “specialised protective area” at Wacol Prison.
Such was the fear, flamed by the death of at least four babies, which was put down to AIDS, after contaminated blood was used for transfusions.
Screening tests for blood donations were quickly put in place, but it wasn’t enough to calm fears. By 1985, at least 45 positive AIDS tests had been confirmed and six Queenslanders had died.
It was enough that Queensland’s Health Minister Brian Austin fought cabinet on its morality laws, to rescind the ban on condom machines across the state, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, to help combat sexually transmitted diseases.
Joh Bjelke-Petersen, in his 17th year as Queensland Premier and looking at a Canberra tilt may have been distracted, but not to that extent. His cabinet rejected the recommendation.
Changes were made to the Liquor Act, which the government interpreted as giving publicans the right to bar homosexuals from entering their premises. Even in 1985 that was considered discrimination, but Queensland’s ministers agreed with the sentiment.
So while the head of the AIDS taskforce managed to convince Ansett and Trans Australia Airlines to lift their ban on carrying people who had come in contact with the virus, Queensland police continued to raid known gay hangouts in Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley, charging people for consensual homosexual acts – or the belief homosexual activity was being undertaken.
National Party federal leader Ian Sinclair blamed Labor for the spread of AIDS in Queensland.
While public debate raged over whether people had a right to know whether they were working with, or in contact with, someone who may have the virus, an argument the anti-discrimination commission came down firmly on the side of privacy (outside of sexual contact), Mr Sinclair blamed the ALP for not condemning homosexuality, claiming the party and its supporters were therefore partly to blame for the spread of the virus.
“It is very sad that as far as Labor Party policies are concerned, they have not recognised the medical consequences of a practice [homosexuality] which they have provoked and are promoting,” he said at the time.
The first Queensland Labor government in 32 years, led by Wayne Goss, overturned the laws that made homosexuality in Queensland illegal, a move National Party MPs fought hard, but ultimately lost.
But the convictions of those charged under the historic laws still stand. Two and a half decades on, the Palaszczuk government is looking at expunging those convictions.
Queensland’s stringent stance on morality led to the raiding of two abortion clinics in Brisbane and Townsville with police confiscating “thousands” of patients’ confidential files. Charges were later dropped and no reference is made to the raids in the cabinet documents. But abortion remains under Queensland’s criminal code, with progressive governments showing no inclination to change it.
Sir Joh’s hold on Queensland was slipping – in just two years’ time, the Fitzgerald Inquiry would throw the blinds open on the “Moonlight state” created under his rule – but in 1985, his word was still law.
Time and science eventually quelled Australia’s AIDS fears, and horror slowly turned to compassion.
The Brisbane Pride Festival is one of the bigger events on the city’s social calendar, and the government now actively supports and promotes safe-sex measures.
The release of the 1985 cabinet documents show a Queensland on the cusp of change.
Luke Roberts – Kunstkamera
Opening Drinks: Friday 1 August, 6pm
Until 30 August 2014
The curtain rises in August on the much-anticipated Luke Roberts exhibitionKunstkamera – an overview at Anna Pappas Gallery. This extensive presentation incorporates both floors of the gallery and includes photography, painting, video, sculpture and found objects providing a broad overview of the career of this icon of Australian art.
Major works from the AlphaStation/Alphaville series shown at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2010) and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney (2011) will be on display as well as works from Roberts’ AMOROMAproject resulting from his 2012 residency at the renowned British School at Rome.
Of course, no exhibition of Roberts’ work would be complete without highlighting his strong performance history. Over four decades Roberts has developed a world of elaborate mythology and multiple personas. Images of and items belonging to his most famous persona, Pope Alice, as well as some of Roberts’ other notable personas will feature in the exhibition. This year marks a significant milestone for Roberts’ celebrated persona Alice Jitterbug, who first visited the National Gallery of Victoria forty years ago in 1974. This timely overview contains a live performance element, an unorthodox occurrence within the commercial gallery setting yet one integral to the artist’s oeuvre and especially relevant during this historic anniversary.
Luke Roberts MFA was the Australian Fellow at PS1 MoMA, New York (1996-97). During the 1980s he lived in Amsterdam, Paris, Kassel and Berlin. He was an Australian representative in the 2nd Asia-Pacific Triennial (1996) and the Biennale of Sydney (2002). The National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, QAGOMA, and the Renia Sofia have collected his work. Luke was born in Alpha, Central Queensland his practice is concerned with constructs of history and gender and investigates marginalization and spirituality. HDH Pope Alice, his visionary performance persona, embodies his aspirations.
Anna Pappas Gallery
2-4 Carlton Street Prahran
Victoria 3181 Australia
Telephone +613 9521 7300
Mon to Fri 9–6 Sat 10–6
In May 1974 Alice Jitterbug alighted from the Balaclava tram and entered history by visiting the National Gallery of Victoria and later Upper Collins Street, Melbourne, where she was mistaken for Germaine Greer.
Mr Larry Strange, now Director, Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), Phnom Penh, Cambodia was one of the witnesses to this event.
“I was there at the first sighting. It was 1974 and a brisk damp breeze blew down St Kilda Road on an autumn evening in Melbourne. Outside the National Gallery a Balaclava tram stopped and She appeared. She was Big, masses of rich jet black curls, towering over others, long shapely legs in platform heels, skirt split to the thigh, dark flashing eyes, vivid red mouth. She seemed other worldly, part goddess, part dervish, part whore. This was Alice Jitterbug, conceived and tempered in the stifling heat and repression of that distant northern city, searching for life and love in the cold south. Later that evening, an elderly gentleman, dapper in a three piece suit, approached her and asked, ‘Excuse me Miss, are you Germaine Greer?’. Alice was gracious, but non-committal. He apologised. She continued up along the ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street …”
Asianist and traveller 2003
First published in 2003 as a postcard as part of Luke Roberts’ Entartete Kunst series
“Voice and Reason”
QUEENSLAND ART GALLERY | GALLERY OF MODERN ART
Stanley Place, Melbourne Street, south end of the Victoria Bridge)
May 18–April 21
View of “Voice and Reason,” 2013–14.
“Voice and Reason,” a collection-driven group show that concentrates on aesthetic exchanges between indigenous and nonindigenous Australian artists, extends this gallery’s focus on cultural integration, a mission it has pursued since the inauguration of the Asia-Pacific Triennial in 1993. Although the exhibition’s title and premise awkwardly cast indigenous Australian art in terms of vernacular culture—in contrast with the reason-oriented West—the show itself is subtler, employing astute spatial arrangements that contest past ethnographic representations of aboriginal culture.
The first two galleries are particularly arresting: These rooms feature a selection of Michael Boiyool Anning’s vibrant shield works from 2003, which are modeled on traditional North Queensland warfare objects; Margaret Preston’s Aboriginal Still Life, 1940, a painting that depicts a shield resembling one of Anning’s works; and Gordon Bennett’s Home decor (after Margaret Preston) no. 1, 1996, a canvas that appropriates Preston’s 1940 painting Aboriginal Still Life. Such curatorial decisions evoke colonialist and postcolonialist ideologies to reveal how both are largely defined through a symbolic reconfiguring of the past. Throughout the exhibition, such historically loaded configurations acquire additional nuances through their juxtaposition with surrounding works that spark more formal associations, as in Joe Ngallametta’s austere milkwood sculptures Thap yongk (Law poles), 2002–2003, and Brook Andrew’s ironic print Sexy and dangerous, 1996, both of which incorporate white handpainted lines.
Selected works from Luke Roberts’s photographic series “AlphaStation/Alphaville,” 2009, end the exhibition on a satirical note. For instance, in the diptych The Spearing (A) and (B), 2009, Roberts, dressed in a kitsch cowboy outfit, is depicted in the Australian bush reading a book titled Tyranny while fellow artist Richard Bell stands alongside in a white studio backdrop, menacingly aiming a spear in his direction. In the same gallery, Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe’s watercolors from the early 1880s sensitively document the indigenous people of Alpha Station, Queensland, where Roberts’s photographs are set, providing a counterpoint typical of the exhibition’s inventive dialogical representation of Australian art.
— Wes Hill
My first commercial solo showing since 2006 opens this week at Milani Gallery
…AMOROMA… BURNING LOVE at Milani Gallery
4-20 July 2013
Opening event 11th July
features work inspired by my residency at the British School at Rome, the Richard Bell and Gerry Connolly portraits entered into the Archibald Prize, a new presentation of Wunderkammer artefacts and two video works.
Video works: ‘The Visitation’ 2012 featuring Pope Alice’s mission to Vatican City. ‘Pope Alice presents Luke Roberts’ 1980 vintage footage of the opening performance of my pivotal 1980 exhibition. This video hasn’t been shown publicly before.
A selection of Luke Roberts’ work from AlphaStation/Alphaville is included in Voice and Reason at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The works were also on display in December 2011 as part of the James C Sourris Collection, which has been donated to the gallery.
This year I painted Gerry Connolly for the Archibald Prize.
E pluribus unum (Gerry Connolly)
Gerry has been an interventionist in the socio-political scene of Australia and has substantially contributed to our view of ourselves and our relationship to our leaders. His many characterizations of high profile political figures and members of the Royal Family have ‘unraveled’ the mighty and powerful and humanized them for us.
Gezabeth: E pluribus unum / One from many
Gerry is especially well-known for his uncanny impersonation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. His brilliance in this role has tended to somewhat typecast him and dominate his repertoire. I have taken this typecasting further in the work, presenting a trompe l’oeil Medal for Dramatic Excellence and Cultural Contribution. The portrait coins this extended phase (sic) in his brilliant career and highlights personal sovereignty, cultural currency and public identity.
Gerry has gained much notoriety in Australia and the UK, achieving great success at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the Edinburgh Festival and the Adelaide Comedy Festival with his hit one-man shows. He has also made many film and TV appearances, including appearances on Fast Forward, Live and Sweaty and Kath & Kim, as well as his own series, The Gerry Connolly Show.
‘My Country’ is a phrase we use with varying meaning and connection and references the often fraught subjects of nation, land ownership, land claim and sovereignty (personal, indigenous and State). In the context of the painting the words ‘My Country’, foregrounds ideas of birthplace, association and inherited position. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?
I first met Gerry in 1970 at high school when we were both residents at the Christian Brothers’ college, St Brendan’s, Yeppoon. We have remained friends ever since.
A poem from our schooldays ‘My Country’ by Dorothy MacKellar describes an enduring love for a sunburnt country bedeviled by flood and drought. Gerry grew up in such an environment in Theodore, Central Queensland and maintains strong links there.
footnote: Approximately forty (40) finalists are chosen each year from over 800 entries. This year my work wasn’t selected as one of the finalists. Last year my portrait In Mob We Trust (Richard Bell) was selected and caused somewhat of a sensation.
Invitation to Luke Roberts book launch
Join us for the launch of
Luke Roberts: Alphastation/Alphaville
2pm, Saturday 13 October 2012
Speakers: Daniel Mudie Cunningham and Luke Roberts
Australian Centre for Photography
257 Oxford Street Paddington
RSVP essential by 11 October 2012 to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Luke is currently the Australian artist scholar at the British School at Rome. The Eternal City is fascinated with his performance persona Her Divine Holiness Pope Alice.
The mid-year exhibition of current BSR artists, “Wher you live now’, opened on 15th June and runs until 23rd June 2012.
The British School at Rome,
via Antonio Gramsci, 61
Each year, the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW judge the Archibald and Wynne Prizes, and invite an artist to judge the Sulman Prize (in 2011 it was Richard Bell).
image: In Mob We Trust (Richard Bell) acrylic on canvas and wood by Luke Roberts
This year Luke’s portrait of Richard is a finalist in the Archibald Prize, one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art prizes. It’s awarded to the best portrait painting, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics.
The Wynne Prize is awarded to the best landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture, while the Sulman Prize is given to the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media.
Three Figures at the Bases of Crucifixions, photographic triptych
SX magazine, Sydney Letter to the Editor, 5 Sept 2011
Recently Anthony of Mosman asked if my work is art or anarchy (Letters, SX, August 29)? He states that my work and words are an “unbridled attack on the fundamental basis of our society”. And he also asked what is to fill the vacuum if we jettison Christianity?
My answer is, Christ-Consciousness could fill the vacuum. It is inclusive, whereas Christianity excludes. My work for the Blake Prize, which has caused anger among some Christians, is about Christ-Consciousness. Believe me, I understand Anthony’s concerns as I had to as a downcast, unhappy, gay youth renegotiate my own spiritual connection in rejecting Christianity in the 1970s. Whilst Jesus said nothing about homosexuality (a word not coined until the mid-nineteenth century) many of his followers seem obsessed with it. Jesus did however have much to say about love one another.
My “drag queen Christ” figure is inspired by existing evidence that Jesus spent years in India and Tibet and was influenced by teachings of the Buddha and Krishna. For example: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41-42) “The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own.” (Undanavarga 27:1) Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) “Consider others as yourself.” (Dhammapada 10:1)
All religious traditions offer a path to achieving Christ Consciousness, and people are free to find their own way. The path is open to anyone regardless of their tradition or sexuality, to become a living vessel of LOVE and TRUTH. Jesus never intended to be portrayed as an idol for us to revere so highly above ourselves that we cannot see the truth right there within each of us.
Spiritual awakening often requires a breakdown. It is time for a cultural reformation and a compete sea change in the way academia, clergy, governments and individuals view and understand our world. We need to set a foundation that unites the spiritual disciplines of East and West and reinterprets the past and acknowledges that we live amidst grand deceptions and aren’t alone in the Universe. Our great religious texts describe contact with extraterrestrial beings mistaken as gods.
As for the question of anarchy, anarchy doesn’t have to imply a complete lack of authority or organization, but can instead refer to a social cohesion lacking a state or a ruler. At the very least Christianity requires this kind of anarchy. As Pope Alice observes, “It’s not so much that the Roman Empire became Christian, but that Christianity became the Roman Empire”. With Chief Homophobe Benedict XVI as the current Caesar we are well overdue for a big wake up call.
Luke Roberts, artist
click to page 10 http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/sxnews/2011/latest/index.html
Luke’s highly successful show AlphaStation/Alphaville opened at the Australian Centre for Photography on Thursday 16th June 2011 at 6pm. The artist was present and addressed the opening crowd.
AlphaStation/Alphaville is exhibited as a joint partnership between the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane and the Australian Centre for Photography. It was shown at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane from Decmebr 2010 through January and February 2011. A publication on Luke’s work is currently in production at the Institute of Modern Art and will be launched later this year. Click invitation flyer below for easier reading.
Artist’s brush with infamy (Sun-Herald 12 June 2011)
Luke Roberts: AlphaStation/Alphaville (Time Out June 2011)
Luke Roberts, Wendy Arthole’s Wundercloset, The Andy Factor 1996, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne
A major Luke Roberts exhibition of new and early work, AlphaStation/Alphaville opened on 27th November at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Brisbane.
There were be two separate main opening events.
a) Artist Talk at the Institute of Modern Art on Saturday 27th November at 2pm. Open to the public. Luke was in conversation with Michele Helmrich, Acting Director and Curator of the University of Queensland Art Museum (UQAM).
b) The Opening Night was listed in conjunction with the Members Cocktail Party on Saturday 4th December from 7-10pm. This was for members of the Institute of Modern Art and invited guests.
The exhibition is open to the public (Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm) from 27th November until the end of February 2011. The IMA closes in late December until late-January.
Luke is known for his performance installation and painting practice. The current show is photo-based work dating from 1965 until the present, which draws on his experiences growing up in Outback Queensland, his sexuality and his spirituality.
“My Childhood Vision of Mother Mary MacKillop galloping past the Alpha Convent bringing more Joeys to Central Western Queensland” was painted in 1994 for the exhibition “Mother Mary: A Tribute” held at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney to celebrate the beatification of Mother Mary MacKillop announced by Pope John-Paul II in Sydney in 1995.
Until now there hasn’t been any print made of this acclaimed painting other than a postcard commissioned by the Alpha/Jericho Shire Council. A high quality giclee print edition on watercolour paper, personally signed by me as the artiat, is now available.
The original painting from 1994 hangs in the office of St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane generously on loan from its owner, a private collector. This painting was viewed and discussed by Pope John-Paul II in 1995 at the Powerhouse Museum, where it won second prize in the exhibition Mary MacKillop: A Tribute. This exhibition celebrated the beatification of Mother Mary MacKillop announced by Pope John-Paul II during his visit to Australia that year.
A second version of the painting, known as the Madrid Version is in the Parliament House Collection, Canberra. The Madrid Version was painted in 1995 for exhibition in Spain in 1996 at ARCO, an international artfair.
The original painting was made in 1994 and is unusually similar to a portrait of Kylie Minogue made by the French photographers Pierre et Gilles a year later in 1995.
Priny available on the Merchandise page
‘The Morning Bulletin’, 24 August, 2010 http://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/
photographic performance, camera: John Elliott
Fresh views of the face in the mirror
* Louise Martin-Chew
* From: The Australian
* December 11, 2009 12:00AM http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/fresh-views-of-the-face-in-the-mirror/story-e6frg8n6-1225809211352
National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize: The University of Queensland Art Museum, St Lucia, Brisbane. Open daily, 10am-4pm. Tel: (07) 3365 3046. Until January 24, 2010.
PORTRAITURE is a proven crowd-pleaser in Australia, but the added dimension that comes when artists depict themselves — particularly artists not generally known for figurative images — makes the second National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize fascinating viewing.
Hosted biennially at the University of Queensland Art Museum, the prize is open to artists by invitation only.
All entries must be new works, purpose-made for the exhibition. The prize allows entries in all media, and this encourages a fluid interpretation of self-portraiture, with some startling results.
A sack of used syringe vials, bound and hung with string, titled Vial Queen, 2009, by Dani Marti, makes a bold statement as an opening work.
* Artists examine inner lives Courier Mail, 10 days ago
* Self-preservation taken at face value The Australian, 29 Nov 2009
* Video portrait wins award Courier Mail, 27 Nov 2009
* Young modern The Australian, 28 Aug 2009
* Why this artist is ruling the roost Adelaide Now, 18 Aug 2009
The form of portrait is compelling, with a poignant personal resonance for the artist. The plump droop of the sack containing the vials and the gleaming silver and glass refer to the fragility of all life.
The winning work, which takes a prize of $50,000, is a DVD by Julie Rrap.
At first glance, the image of Rrap’s face may seem a static projection on the wall, but subtle changes to the face emerge, suggesting an emotionally charged response to some unseen force. Its title, 360 self-portrait, refers to the way in which it was produced.
Rrap, known for her performative work, was filmed as her body was moved through 360 degrees, so the change in her facial expression reflects the cycling weight of her physical body.
The University of Queensland Art Museum prize is acquisitive, judged this year by Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, director of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and the multimedia addition to the collection reflects the current interest in artist DVDs and video art, visible in contemporary art generally and the university’s collection.
There are some fairly traditional self-portraits in the prize — Heidi Yardley’s image of a dark-haired girl sporting a large red floating mark suggests the autobiographical source of much of her imagery, and Rick Amor’s muted palette is not a great distance from his usual mode of work (although the gridded canvas is unusual). However, much of the exhibition shows artists stepping outside their usual mode or genre.
TV Moore paints himself As Ian Fairweather, 2009, casting himself as the solitary figure of Queensland’s celebrated hermit.
Queensland’s most eccentric contemporary artist, Luke Roberts, has also contributed a self-portrait with a historical source, although in taking on the guise of Adolph, he continues his interest in messing with society’s sacred cows. In this large photograph, in which Roberts is almost unrecognisable at first, he uses the bristles of a paintbrush to form the characteristic moustache of Adolf Hitler. His expression is surprised, “sad but frustrated”, an “at the easel look”, according to Roberts, whose work as a painter has generally been eclipsed by his other activities as a performance and installation artist.
Other strong images which are all the better for their stepping outside the artists’ usual oeuvre include Lindy Lee’s Budhi and Me, 2009, in which a female figure sits on an elephant.
It is painted in Chinese ink, and holes are burnt into the paper that appear to drip downwards. It is a highly evocative representation of an artist known for her darkly abstract images.
In the 35 works in this exhibition, many of Australia’s strongest contemporary artists are represented, with images that reflect and stretch their usual practice. It is highly engaging and bodes well for the prize continuing to be a lively force.
An image of HDH Pope Alice is featured in the current DNA magazine #118. The image is on page 86 in an article on gay art entitled ‘Fairytales” by Joseph Brennan. DNA is available in most newsagents in Australia.
NATIONAL ARTISTS’ SELF-PORTRAIT PRIZE 2009, University of Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
27 November 2009 – 24th January 2010 (gallery closed 21 December – 10 January)
Artists invited: Rick Amor, Brook Andrew, Del Kathryn Barton, Lyndell Brown & Charles Green, Peter Churcher, Lucy Culliton, eX de Medici, Julie Dowling, Marian Drew, McLean Edwards, Leah Emery, Fiona Foley, Shaun Gladwell, Peter Graham, Cherry Hood, Lindy Ivimey, Leah King-Smith, Sam Leach, Lindy Lee, Rhys Lee, Fiona Lowry, Gabriella & Silvana Mangano, Amanda Marburg, Dani Marti, Tim McMonagle, TV Moore, Dennis Nona, Scott Redford, Charles Robb, Luke Roberts, Julie Rrap, Darren Siwes, Martin Smith, Christian Thompson, Alick Tipoti, Judy Watson, William Yang, Heidi Yardley.
QUIRKY: FROM THE COLLECTION, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle
12 December 2009 – 31 January 2010
An 8 metre banner advertising the show and featuring Pope Alice will hang in front of the gallery during the exhibition
Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy
Daniel von Sturmer
ALTERED EGO, Lismore Regional Gallery, Lismore
18 December 2009 to 13 February 2010.
Artists: Anastasia Klose, Lauren Brincat, Danielle Freakley (the Quote Generator), Luke Roberts (aka Pope Alice), Tobin Saunders (AKA Vanessa Wagner), Mark Shorter (Tino la Bamba), Tom Polo, Laith McGregor, Emily Portmann and Christian Thompson
QUEENSLAND ART, David Pestorius Projects
5 December 2009 – 20 February 2010
Pestorius Sweeney House
39 Eblin Drive, Hamilton
opening events 5th December 2009 from 3pm
Screening of Transformer (1977â€“2004) and Nazissus (1983) by Luke Roberts with a short introduction by Michele Helmrich
Afternoon events include screenng and performance work by other artists: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Janelle Hurst, John Nixon, Gary Warner, Ed Kuepper, the Deadnotes …..
A LIMITED EDITION photographic performance PRINT will also be available at MILANI GALLERY as part of the gallery’s Christmas show.
TWO WUNDERKAMMER CABINETS COMMISSIONED BY THE ARTIST AND PURCHASED BY THE GALLERY ARE ALSO ON EXHIBITION WITH ACCOMPANYING WUNDERKAMMER OBJECTS AT THE QUEENSLAND ART GALLERY AS PART OF THEIR NEW INSTALL OCTOBER 2009
Collection Queensland Art Gallery 1995
The cabinets were originally exhibited as part of Wunderkammer/Kunstkamera at the Queensland Art Gallery 1994-95
Luke Roberts’ work All Souls of the Revolution is currently in the exhibition Soft Sculpture at the National Gallery of Australia
‘soft sculpture’ exhibition currently on show at national gallery of australia http://nga.gov.au/EXHIBITION/softsculpture/ looks at the ways artists use unconventional materials to challenge the nature of sculpture. visitors will see works made from cloth,
rope, paper, hair, leather, rubber or vinyl. the objects may droop, ooze or splash. they are fluffy, squishy
or bent. they surround, suffocate and astonish and, in many cases, make us laugh.
it includes sculptures and installations by eva hesse, robert morris, claes oldenburg, robert rauschenberg,
joseph beuys and annette messager, and works by australian artists such as mikala dwyer, david jensz. luke roberts
and ricky swallow. the exhibition will run till 12 july 2009.
All souls of the revolution 1976-94
not signed, not dated
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
ARTICLE | PROVENANCE | PREVIOUS
Luke Robertsâ€™s practice embraces painting, performance, photography and video, as well as a peculiar form of curatorship. His Wunderkammer (literally â€˜room of wondersâ€™ or â€˜miracle chamberâ€™) replicates the magic of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century curiosity cabinets, the splendour of Victorian museumsâ€•with accompanying post-colonial â€˜baggageâ€™â€•and embraces chance encounters of the strange and commonplace. Roberts celebrates kitsch and discourse on the Exotic, reinventing the cabinet of curiosities with conquests from op-shops, museum storage, antiquarian marketsâ€”and outer space. His Wunderkammer exists not in a private or museum collection but conceptually as an ever-expanding catalogue of items which will, eventually, encapsulate the whole world.
All souls of the revolution 1976â€“94 comprises about 350 dolls, clowns, gollywogs, rabbits, bears and other animals made of knitted wool, fabric, fur or synthetic materials. Originally part of the Wunderkammer/Kunstkamera project, the work is hung high, in a frieze-like manner, extending above the line of the viewerâ€™s eye to the ceiling. Roberts has compared his collection of toys to wingless angels, to the cupids and putti that adorn Baroque and Rococo ceilings. The flamboyant theatricality of these styles encapsulates Robertsâ€™s aesthetic approach. He also connects the sacred and the profane, drawing our attention to the apparent disjunction between ecclesiastical interiors and commonplace objects. Indeed, toys (either handmade or mass-produced in a factory) have a particular place in his oeuvre: these special friends now rejected or lost stand for the loss of childhood innocence, lives lost to AIDS and other scourges of the twentieth century.
The commemorative function of All souls of the revolution is reminiscent of roadside memorials, particularly the descanso tradition in which memorials are decorated for specific holidays, or those for children incorporating special toys. Roberts reminds us of the special role of toys and other gifts: handmade and homemade objects encapsulate the love between an adult and a child, and the child often perceives his or her world through such gifts. The objects in All souls of the revolution are intriguing, even if only for their sheer diversity. The intensity of their melange of colours and materialsâ€”efforts which are sometimes more indicative of sincerity than talent or skillsâ€”celebrates naivetÃ©, the folkloric and the marginal, as well as ritualised spaces from cave paintings to church interiors.
All souls of the revolution takes its names from All Soulsâ€™ Day (2 November), a day that loomed large for the Catholic-educated Roberts. Also important for the artist are the visual and emotive resonances with Mexico, and Spanish-American traditions of the Days of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos), the collective celebration of Allhallows eve, All Saintsâ€™ Day and All Souls’ Day.
These toys form an understanding of, and a basis to concepts of mythology. They awaken within the child the capacity to be bigger than oneself, to project into another world â€¦ The passing of childhood is usually our first contact with death. The child we once were is lost and the remnants of our childhood are the archaeological evidence or fragments of its existence (Memory).
Robertsâ€™s All souls of the revolution is both appealing in its immediacy, and as an embodiment of â€˜othernessâ€™. It also encapsulates an immensely political message: the power of group action and collective memory. The struggle against heterogeneity is not over yet, but when the revolution does come, it will be queer, extraordinary, full of loveâ€”and very, very funny.
International Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
 Michele Helmrich, â€˜Wunderkammer/Kunstkamera, Luke Robertsâ€™, Eyeline no 27, autumn/winter 1995, pp 22â€“27. Roberts has produced a number of Wunderkammer and one of the earliest was in 1990, at the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane; another, in the following year at Perspecta, comprised four cabinets, one of which, Wunderkammer: the voyage within the wonderful continues… 1991â€“94, is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney. In 1994â€“95 Robertsâ€™s largest project to date was installed at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and in 1996 he produced an â€˜Asianâ€™ Wunderkammer for the Queensland Art Galleryâ€™s Second Asia Pacific Triennial; both QAG projects are described by Timothy Morrell, in â€˜The peopleâ€™s pope: Luke Robertsâ€™, Art and Australia, vol 35, no 2, 1997, pp 226â€“233
 Michele Helmrich, â€˜Luke Robertsâ€™, The second Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1996 p 121
 As Helmrich points out, Wunderkammer/Kunstkamera makes â€˜a word-play of the ancient and the modern: the Greek kamara, the Latin for vault, camera, chamber (in camera), camera obscura, on camera. Further, Kunstkamera is a variation on Kunstkammer, those collections contemporary with the Wunderkammer which prioritised â€œartâ€ and the artificialâ€•Kunst being German for â€œartâ€. The title gives focus to the museum and the camera, and their repertoire of images.â€™ Quoted from Vanitas: Pope Alice presents Luke Roberts, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 1999, n17, p 23; see also Helmrich in The second Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1996 p 121
The artistâ€™s comments on the work are also drawn from this 1996 statement; see NGA 96/0183, folio 9
 In some areas of South America, a distinction is made between 1 November as the day to honour children and adultsâ€”Day of the Innocents (DÃa de los Inocentes) or Day of the Little Angels (DÃa de los Angelitos)â€”and 2 November as the day for deceased adults
Roberts cites Frida Kahlo as a key influence; she also features in his performance work
Luke Roberts’ work 1+1=8 was on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 24 November until the 9 March 2008.
The work is presented in alongside a recently acquired DVD work by Yasumasa MORIMURA Seasons of Passion/A Requiem: Mishima (2006) as well as his Slaughter Cabinet II installation. Also featured are the books Barakei (Ordeal by Roses) and Barakei (Killed by Roses) from 1971 and 1963 respectively, which were collaboratively produced by Eikoh HOSOE, Yukio MISHIMA and Tadanori YOKOO.
Curated by Judy Annear, this installation focuses on issues to do with selfhood, desire, beauty and destruction. The works move through various histories, divinities, masculinities, fantasies and fictions â€“ eventually realising a destination that is somewhere near the â€˜city not to be found on the map of any land, a city of awesome silencesâ€™ where Mishima first imagined himself. Inherently preoccupied with the performance of identity, each of the artists acts as their own model; paradoxical models who are both looked at and looking back.
Shifting across continents, the artists deconstruct a notion of historical figures as contemporary icons, encompassing the clashes of East and West, colonial and capital, cultural and commercial, that have defined late 20th century and early 21st century history.
Archiv Â» 2008 Â» 19. Juli Â» Seite 1
Der australische Gegenpapst
Fast vierzig Jahre ist es her, dass Luke Roberts seinen Pope Alice erfunden hat. Es ist eine Kunstfigur, die zumeist die liturgischen Gewänder des Papstes trägt. Ihr Gesicht erinnert an einen Außerirdischen. An diesem Wochenende wird sie einen großen Auftritt haben: bei den Protesten, die den Weltjugendtag im australischen Sydney begleiten. Am Sonntag werden Papstfreunde wie -gegner alles aufbieten. Hinter der Maske von Pope Alice steckt ihr Erfinder – Luke Roberts, ein 55 Jahre alter Künstler. Er gehört zum Führungsteam der No-to-Pope-Coalition. Das Nein-zum-Papst-Bündnis kritisiert die restriktive Haltung der katholischen Kirche zu Sex und Verhütung; viele Homosexuelle, Atheisten, Menschenrechtler und kircheninterne Papstkritiker haben sich der Bewegung angeschlossen. Die Koalition setzt sich für eine Trennung von Kirche und Staat, für Abtreibung und Frauenrechte, Kondombenutzung und gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe ein. Luke Roberts Stimme klingt erleichtert: Gerade eben hätten sie einen weiteren Sieg errungen, sagt er. Seine Anti-Papst-Bewegung habe vor der Großdemonstration in Sydney “ein freundschaftliches Verhältnis” zur Polizei herstellen können. Eigentlich war eine unangenehme bis ernsthafte Konfrontation mit der Staatsmacht zu erwarten gewesen. Es ist erst ein paar Tage her, da erhielt Roberts Anrufe von der Polizei. “Sie wollten Proteste frühzeitig unterbinden”, sagt er. Sondergesetze der Regierung von New South Wales hatten eine Atmosphäre gegenseitigen Misstrauens geschaffen. Jede antikatholische oder papstkritische Meinungsäußerung, jeder T-Shirt-Aufdruck sollte mit umgerechnet bis zu 3 300 Euro bestraft werden. Doch dann hob ein Bundesgericht das Gesetz wieder auf, weil es die Meinungsfreiheit zu sehr eingeschränkt sah. Geklagt hatte Rachel Evans, die wie Roberts zu den Mitbegründern von No To Pope zählt. Roberts stammt aus einem katholischen Elternhaus. Er wuchs in dem kleinen Ort Alpha auf, im riesigen Bundesstaat Queensland. Heute lebt er als Künstler in der im Nordosten Australiens gelegenen Stadt Brisbane, er bekennt sich zu seiner Homosexualität und zum Atheismus. Mitte der achtziger Jahre zog er nach Paris und Amsterdam, eine Zeit lang lebte er auch in Berlin. Freudig kramt er ein paar Brocken Deutsch aus seinem Gedächtnis hervor. Den deutschen Papst Benedikt schimpft er indes “den obersten Homophoben”. Den Einfluss der Katholiken in Australien hält Roberts für übergroß. Er rätselt, warum das Parlament von New South Wales der katholischen Kirche 120 Millionen Dollar zur Ausrichtung des Weltjugendtags geschenkt habe, “einer Organisation, die ganz offenbar über genügend Geld verfügt”. Auch dagegen will das Nein-zum-Papst-Bündnis protestieren. “Pope Alice’s Kiss In” nennt sich eine Kundgebung in Sydney, bei der nun legal Kondome verteilt werden dürfen. —————————— Foto: Pope Alice alias Luke Roberts vom No-to-Pope-Bündnis